2019 CERT Improper Payment Rate

on Tuesday, 10 December 2019. All News Items | Case Management | Documentation | Coding

“Pay it Right”

As the first half of the school year winds down, it takes me back to filling spiral notebooks full of class notes, hours of studying, and final exams. Similar to exam results reflecting how well you learned the material taught, the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) program performs audits to see how well Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) have followed Medicare coverage, coding, and payment rates to adjudicate claims.

Audit findings are used to calculate a Medicare Fee-for-Service (FFS) program improper payment rate. “The CERT program considers any claim that was paid when it should have been denied or paid at another amount (including both overpayments and underpayments) to be an improper payment.”

CERT Audit Approach

Annually, the CERT program reviews a “statistically valid stratified random sample of Medicare FFS claims to determine if they were paid properly.” Specifically, the CERT reviews Part A claims excluding hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS), Part A Hospital IPPS claims, Part B claims (i.e. physician, laboratory, and ambulance services); and Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS).

If documentation does not support that the rules were met, a claim is counted as a total or partial improper payment. Once an improper payment is identified the error is categorized into one of the following five major categories:

  • No Documentation,
  • Insufficient Documentation,
  • Medical Necessity,
  • Incorrect Coding, or
  • Other.

Fiscal Year 2019 Estimated Improper Payment Rates

In mid-November, CMS published a CMS.gov Fact Sheet detailing the estimated improper payment rates for CMS Programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. Approximately 50,000 claims were sampled and included claims submitted from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. The following tables highlights an improper payment rate compare of FY 2018 to FY 2019.

Medicare FFS (Part A and Part B) Improper Payment Rate Compare
 FY 2018FY 2019
Improper Payment Rate 8.12% 7.25%
Improper Payments $31.62B $28.91B

CMS reminds the reader in the Fact Sheet that improper payment rates are not necessarily indicative of or are measures of fraud. Instead, improper payments are payments that did not meet statutory, regulatory, administrative, or other legally applicable requirements and may be overpayments or underpayments.”

CMS Initiatives Contributing to Decrease in Improper Payment Rate

CMS attributes the decreased improper payment rate and payments to reductions in Home Health, Other Medicare Part B services and DMEPOS claims. 

Specific actions taken to reduce improper payments includes:

  • Policy clarification and Targeted Probe and Educate for Home Health agencies,
  • Other Medicare Part B Services: Clarification and simplification of documentation requirements under the Patients-Over-Paperwork initiative for other Medicare Part B services, and
  • “Various corrective actions” for DMEPOS.


You can learn more about the FY 2019 CERT findings in the Department of Health and Human Services FY 2019 Agency Financial Report at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fy2019-hhs-agency-financial-report.pdf on pages 200 through 210 of the report.  

To learn more about the CERT visit AdvanceMed’s CERT Provider Documentation Information website at https://certprovider.admedcorp.com/Home/About.

Article by Beth Cobb

Beth Cobb, RN, BSN, ACM, CCDS, is the Manager of Clinical Analytics at Medical Management Plus, Inc.  Beth has over twenty-five years of experience in healthcare including eleven years in Case Management at a large multi-facility health system. 

In her current position, Beth is a principle writer for MMP’s Wednesday@One weekly e-newsletter, an active member of our HIPAA Compliance Committee, MMP’s Education Department Program Director and co-developer of MMP’s proprietary Compliance Risk Assessment (CRA) Tool. You may contact Beth at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This material was compiled to share information.  MMP, Inc. is not offering legal advice.  Every reasonable effort has been taken to ensure the information is accurate and useful.


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